This story is paired with Chapter XV of Bulfinch’s Mythology. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
In a convertible black Mercedes, roughly one hour before sunset, along the road from Constanţa to Mamaia, having had caroused through Ovid Square and sampled mămăligă, my wife and I looked up at the horizon alone the coast and saw three harpies flying towards us at the speed of sound. Boom! I cranked the wheel. Fuck, I thought. The bitches of Electra! Swerving off the highway, we rolled down a road that ran parallel with a boggy ravine, then ended up in an grassy field. I then turned to my wife and said: “This is what we get for not understanding Eastern European plight! Romanians! Fascists, communists! Everything is backwards. Who cares how gypsies beg? Remind me to never take a trip with you again!”
Ironically enough, I had studied harpies as a graduate student. I recalled how Phineas, king of Thrace, son of Poseidon—blinded, punished by the gods, because he mistreated his own children and revealed too much of the gods’ plans to humankind—left Iris, a goddess, no choice but to send the harpies down to snatch free food out of his hands (every time he tried to feed himself), on the coast of the Black Sea.
Thee harpy’s chattering teeth were like sharpened shards of iron.
Their feathered bellies had been tended to by their own spit.
I thought of Kentucky Fried Chicken as the plump three of them (original recipe?) each perched on the hood of our Mercedes, glaring at us, hissing, through the windshield.
“So,” said my wife, who slid a loosely-knotted scarf off her neck, then turned to me in sunglasses. “Do you have a clue? No, you have quite a bit of nothing.”
I hit the dashboard several times like some angry American. “Get the fuck away! We’re Dutch! We’re cartoonists!” Such shrieking I have never heard before. I turned to my wife: “Maybe those cabbage rolls had chemicals in them and this is a hallucination.”
“They’re foaming at the mouth like drunken whores!”
“They’re not whores,” I said. “They’re harpies! Oh, why did we come?!”
“Because you wanted to see the Black Sea and needed inspiration.”
“And how much work did you complete last month? None.”
“Make me ashamed?” My wife wiped tears. “Oh, you and your little…. believe me, I know it’s part of some conspiracy to lead me to an early grave. Stop flustering my mind!”
I glared at my wife. “I fucked up—yes, this I want to tell you—but she—.”
“I loved you more than life itself—I. . . .”
“I need a legacy! Don’t you know I’m fifty and I’m sonless?”
“This all comes back to me,” said my wife. “You and your sons.”
“What?” I said.
“Nothing,” she said.
I looked at my wife, who had her eyes forward, staring at the harpies.
I did not know if my wife or not, behind those sunglasses, was a fallen woman. I married her because she was talented, married her because she understood my sexual proclivities and because she, too, was a cartoonist. Never did I think would it come to this—to this moment in our relationship. I looked at the harpies through the windshield, studied their faces. The one on the left corner of the hood was plump with the face of a chubby teenager. The harpy perched on the hood ornament—the Mercedes sign directly before us—had the face of a girl infant, eyes-closed, pink-faced, with scanty patches of hair on her head, yet had the body of an oily fowl. So disturbed was I by that second harpy, that I could hardly look at the third harpy, who with a crone’s face had moss and bits of human flesh betwixt her iron teeth.
I had a dream just like this, I thought; I was prepared for our dismemberment.
Sniffling, my wife reached over me and opened up the glove box for her package of Gauloises, then extracted a short cigarette. She lit it with a lighter that had a dolphin on it. Annoyed, she began to smoke with her right elbow cradled in her cupped left palm.
She was vicious at times, yet she was also beautiful.
I remembered how I met her on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
I had rented a bicycle and took a ride down a trail and then saw a busty girl in a tight pink shorts leaning down to pump her back bicycle tire. I stopped to look at her, and she peered up at me quickly, frustrated with the pump, threw her hands up, then looked at me directly.
“Excuse me, sir, can you please help? I don’t think I’m doing this correctly.”
I smiled and crossed the road, looked down at her bicycle and then up at her and saw she was doing everything right. Amused, we then talked. I asked her what she did for a living: she said that she was an artist; I asked her “What kind?” She said she drew political cartoons which poked fun at famous people, that although she enjoyed writing the captions more than drawing, she did not think she was a natural comedian.
We talked for a while, standing there on the outskirts by the wind-mills, watching the cars scroll by us as the sun began to set. Holding a purple cap, I asked her to meet me at a café the following week, so I could show her my portfolio and so she could show me hers.
I was a marvelous cartoonist, she said, thumbing through the prints, at the table.
“Yes, in fact, I like the purple feathers here and….here and with this tinge of aqua!”
As a Classics Major, I had just graduated from Oxford—office hours with sherry, all—then returned to Amsterdam, unsure of what do with my bachelor-dom. I had broken going with girlfriend, who owned a ferret, which is difficult for me to even now admit because I chose classics over her every time and once had a strict afternoon regimen with my head buried in between the covers of used and brittle books that had yellowed from antiquity.
For a year, I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses and produced its pictorial equivalent all the while sketching depictions of the changing characters in my composition book: fiery creatures, erotic myths and sins. I considered myself a Protestant, I told my future wife.
She smirked and said she liked my pluck and smile. I said liked her lips and gravitas.
Even late into the night, after many joints and cups of coffee—I somehow knew I would marry this girl. I would take a liking to simpler things: like cartoon doodling, which I had done ever since I was a child. Never did I think my number would come. That as a ghost, I would flap and hover above my convertible, black Mercedes—my beautiful, busty wife and I melting into each another—converging into a great, gelatinous blanket, high above the scene, in the sky, above the convertible top, while harpies, with angers freshly lit, mauled through our entrails, after they each delivered two blows of death.
I looked down at the scene, thinking about the sons I never had, about my two mistresses in Romania who never knew of, nor met my wife, how rarely I wrote the captions accurately, let alone colored inside the lines in my last few years of work—while the three harpies now that had flown to us, snatched up our flesh with their beaks and talons, yanked out our veins, roosted through us, gnawed on our lacerated husks, hopping about in the front seat of our Mercedes, parked by the grassy field, that had no living passenger.
Paul Rogov studied Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley and Social Work at USC. His literary work has appeared in Danse Macabre, Exterminating Angel Press, Stepping Stones Magazine, Femicatio Magazine, Cultural Weekly and others. The Fallen Years, his critically-acclaimed debut novella, about a veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war, was released in October 2011. In 2013, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is currently shopping his novel The Serpent and the Dove (a part of a family saga that spans four generations) to agents.